Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae)
Description: This wildflower is a winter annual about 4-12" tall that is unbranched. The central stem is light green, terete, and pubescent. The opposite leaves are up to 2" long and ¾" across; they are either medium green or yellowish green and either glabrous or pubescent (usually the latter). The lowest leaves are oval to orbicular with a few blunt teeth along their margins; they are smaller than the other leaves and there are petioles at their bases. The middle leaves are the largest and most conspicuous; they are oval to broadly lanceolate, often with a few blunt teeth along their margins, and their bases are either sessile or they clasp the stem. The uppermost leaves are usually lanceolate and smooth along their margins; their bases are either sessile or they clasp the stem.
The central stem terminates in a whorl of 2-6 flowers on slender pedicels up to 1" long. Sometimes individual flowers develop from the axils of the upper leaves as well; these axillary flowers have slender pedicels up to 1½" long. The pedicels are light green, terete, and pubescent. Each flower is ½-¾" across, consisting of a green calyx with 5 teeth and a blue/white corolla. The calyx is light green to purplish green; it is often pubescent and its teeth are narrowly triangular in shape. The corolla is short-tubular and it is divided into upper and lower lips. The upper lip is cleft into 2 large rounded lobes that are white, while the lower lip is cleft into 3 lobes. The 2 large outer lobes of the lower lip are light blue to blue-violet and rounded, while the tiny middle lobe of the lower lip is folded into a keel and hidden from view. This middle lobe contains the stamens and style of the flower.
The blooming period occurs from mid- to late spring, lasting about 3 weeks. Afterwards, each flower is replaced by an globoid-ovoid capsule that contains a few large seeds. The root system consists of a slender taproot. This plant spreads by reseeding itself; it often forms colonies of variable size.
Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight to light shade, moist to mesic conditions, and a rich loamy soil. The size of individual plants is strongly influenced by moisture conditions and the fertility of the soil. The seeds should be planted during the summer so that they will germinate during the fall.
Range & Habitat: Blue-Eyed Mary occurs occasionally in NE and east central Illinois, but it tends to be less common elsewhere (see Distribution Map). At some high quality sites around the state, it is locally abundant. Habitats include moist to mesic deciduous woodlands, wooded lower slopes of river valleys, and areas along woodland paths. Sometimes Blue-Eyed Mary occurs in drier deciduous woodlands, in which case the individual plants will be smaller in size. Even though it tolerates minor levels of disturbance, this wildflower is an indicator species of high quality woodlands.
Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), long-horned bees (Synhalonia spp.), and mason bees (Osmia spp.). Less common flower visitors include dance flies (Empis spp.), the Giant Bee Fly (Bombylius major), butterflies, and skippers. Little else appears to be known about floral-faunal relationships for this species.
Photographic Location: Along a path in a deciduous woodlands at Allerton Park in Piatt County, Illinois, and the wooded lower slope of a river valley at Lodge Park in the same county.
Comments: The distinctive bicolored flowers are very beautiful, making Blue-Eyed Mary easy to identify. This woodland wildflower is unusual in having flowers that are close to a true blue color. The only other species in the genus that has been observed in Illinois is Collinsia violacea (Violet Collinsia). This latter wildflower is also a winter annual that has corollas with a deeper shade of purplish violet and more narrow lanceolate leaves. Violet Collinsia prefers sunnier habitats than Blue-Eyed Mary, and it is quite rare within the state, although more common in the Southern Plains region of the United States.